Monday, March 2, 2009

Theory Fighter: Volume 4: Offense and Defense 102

A little introduction: Given the amazing success of Street Fighter IV already (it was sold out in Japan on day 1 and is tough to find a launch copy in Canada/USA) and the massive influx of new players, the Street Fighter community is bigger than ever. Even though the game is new, there are already a lot of very good players out there, but for most people, this will be their first Street Fighter in over a decade! To help those people, I welcome you to "Theory Fighter." In each installment I will try to explain some of the concepts that seperate a noob from a pro using practical examples and setups for varying characters. For the most part, these are concepts that can be used in any Street Fighter game, and in some cases, any competitive game period.

Note that this series of articles will very much be geared towards newcomers, so if you're a Street Fighter Veteran the information here may be of limited use. Also note though, that these articles will assume you're at least familiar with the Street Fighter (IV specifically) core mechanics.

Remember, there's a huge difference between a noob and a scrub. A noob knows (s)he's a beginner, but willing to learn. A scrub is convinced he's already good before (s)he's learned anything.

Don't forget to read Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3.
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Lexicon
Here's a short list of words I'll be using that you need to be familiar with. You can skip this section if you're confident you understand this terminology.

Block String

A series of moves that, when blocked, are difficult to counterattack either during or even after the string is over.

Block Stun/Hit Stun

The state your character enters when they are in the process of blocking or being hit. Functionally, both these states are the same, although hit stun often lasts longer than blockstun. You cannot attack or be thrown while in block/hit stun. To launch a counter attack after a block (or even a hit), you must wait for block/hit stun to be OVER.

Flinch

A flinch occurs after a one character has blocked a series of moves from another character and goes for a counterattack after (s)he leaves block stun.

Frame Advantage

A state in which your attack leaves you in a neutral stance (i.e. ready to attack again) before your opponent recovers from block/hit stun. For example, if Ryu attacks an opponent with his c. MP, he can recover fast enough to combo into his c. MK before the opponent's hit stun ends. Frame Advantage is crucial for doing Link Combos

Link Combos

A combo in which you let one move recover before you perform the next move in the combo. Link combos are often associated with very tight timing, sometimes affording you as little as 1 frame of advantage to input your move properly. You can practice Link combos in Street Fighter IV's Challenge mode, in the 5th level of the Normal Trial section.

xx

This is the shorthand notation for one move chaining into another one. For example, Ryu's bnb c. MK to Hadoken can be written c. MK xx Hadoken. For the definition of a chain, see Volume 2.

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Theory Fighter: Volume 4: Offense and Defense 102

Before anyone asks, yes, I was supposed to do a dedicated section on defense in this volume. But as I thought about the subject, I realized I had a very difficult time breaking up offensive and defensive scenarios. I realized that this is because of Yomi. Just because the situation seems to be in one person's control doesn't necessarily mean it is so. That's when I realized I had my next topic.

A lot of new players lose a lot because they don't understand the objective of Street Fighter. It's to win, right? It's to knock out my opponent, right? Yes and no. While knocking out your opponent is certainly an objective, it isn't your main objective during a match. This is the kind of thinking that makes a player use his Super in a round that is all but over instead of stocking his meter for the next round. This is the kind of thinking that pushes the player with the big lead into a dumb mistake instead of waiting out the clock.

So what is Street Fighter then? At high level, Street Fighter is about managing two things: Space and time. Space is the more obvious component here, but what do we mean when we say "time?" Time extends passed the simple round time. In this article we will refer to it as the time in which your opponent can act on your vulnerability. If you can maintain control of these two factors, then a match greatly swings in your favor.

Controlling space and time

Much like the ancient martial arts that have been practiced for centuries, there are a number of common attack patterns you'll see in Street Fighter. In general, all these patterns can be boiled down to two primary types of offense: rushdown and turtle. A lot of new players like to characterize themselves immediately as one of these styles. However, if you ask them why, they'll respond with something like "I attack a lot" or "I stay back and block a lot." This isn't really what these offenses are. An attack style is characterized by the way you control space. Each of these styles is unique in the way they lock down opponents, and limit their options. In terms of space and time, the optimal way to play BOTH strategies is to limit your opponent to a very small play space, and give him/her only a short window of time to decide the next move.

Rushdown

A rushdown offense works by locking your opponent in a box, which you then attack from the outside. This removes the majority of the play field from his/her control. Everytime your opponent tries to break out of the box, you counter and put them back into it. This last part is very important. Rushdown is less about eliminating all your opponent's options (because in a truly balanced game, this is impossible), but rather it is about pressing your opponent into panic, and then opening up an option you've already determined for them. In the split second they have to make a decision about what to do, they take the bait and you punish. The illusion of choice is the key here, because it demoralizes your opponent and puts them in a state where they start to second guess themselves. Once this happens, even more options open up for you.

Example # 1

Say we consider Ryu bearing down on Ken. Ryu attacks using a series of moves that Ken blocks successfully (this is known as a block string, we will look at this in a few moments). In the slight pause that Ryu looks like he's out of options, Ken launches into a counterattack which Ryu punishes with a seemingly psychic Shoryuken! Of course in this scenario, Ryu is not a mind reader. He actively opened that window for counterattack which he then exploited. In essence, the entire sequence was under Ryu's control from the start.

Rushdown typically works by locking your opponent into a state we call block stun. Block stun occurs, unsurprisingly, when you block an attack. The time from you blocking to the time you return to a neutral state (when you can perform a move) is called block stun. It's important to note you cannot do ANYTHING while in block stun. Block stun essentially paralyzes you. This has an interesting psychological effect on players, because if you can put them into block stun often, in a relatively short amount of time, you create the illusion that they are losing control of the fight. Then, when you open up an opportunity when they are no longer in block stun, you can bet they'll attempt a counter attack, for no other reason than they won't know when they'll get another chance.

Example # 2

Consider Rufus keeping a constant pressure on his opponent with dive kicks and LK xx Galactic Tornado bnb combos. Say at one point he dive kicks in with a LK xx HK chain combo (which can be further linked to his Ultra) that the opponent blocks. A panicked opponent may see this as his/her one chance for a counter attack. However, if Rufus delays for just a half second, and then performs his Ultra, he will most likely catch them on a flinch. Again, this gives the illusion of a psychic attack, but in reality Rufus' rushdown has manipulated this entire situation by leaving an obvious avenue for counterattack.

This is a trick/shenanigan you say? You're absolutely right. But think about it this way. If you do this enough times, will your opponent punish you the next time they block your LK xx HK chain? Probably not. If they stop punishing this chain, then you can now suddenly fish with it safely to setup your Ultra in the future. If they start punishing it again, you can use this trick again! Of course at this point, we get back into another Yomi discussion.

So, how do we keep players in block stun? We use something called a block string.

Block Strings

A block string is exactly what it sounds like, a series of moves that your opponent blocks. What use is that, you may wonder. In fact, having good solid block strings is crucial to playing a good game for most characters. Block strings allow you to have failed offenses, yet return to a safe distance where your opponent cannot attack you effectively. Block strings also allow you to fish more safely for your bnb combo. If even one part of the block string hits, you can chain that hit into further hits. Most importantly, block strings allow you to create the illusion of opportunity for your opponent, which you can then capitalize on.

What goes into a good block string? A "true" block string is a link combo that gets blocked. Link combos, by their definition, leave no true "space" for your opponent to counterattack, yet because they're so slow, they often create that illusion. False block strings are just as important. These are moves which you either can't link together, or purposely don't link together (say by slightly delaying your next move). False block strings create the illusion of opportunity that you want your opponent to act on. Of course it should go without saying that you want to always end a false block string with a quick recovering move, or a move that gives you Frame Advantage (otherwise you really ARE leaving yourself open!).

Mixing true block strings with the occasional false block string confuses your opponent, making them think there are windows where there aren't, or handcuffing him in situations where you are truly vulnerable.

Example # 1



In this video, Ryu makes almost abusive use of his block strings to keep his opponents anchored down in block stun. His opponents have so few opportunities to counterattack, and even when they do they are relatively small panic attacks just to get Ryu off them. Some of the strings, such as c. MP, c. MP at 1:26, and then forward + HP, c. LP only a second later, are true block strings. Dhalsim has no chance to retaliate. When Dhalsim finally does land a MK after that, Ryu is already starting his Focus Attack which he uses to finish Dhalsim off. This highlights the strength of block strings in a rushdown offense. They give you time to plan for your opponent's next move, while simultaneously pushing them into a panic state.

You can also look at the sequence at 2:03. Ryu performs a true block string, Focus Attack dash into c. LP, c. HP, EX Hadoken, c. MK, EX Hadoken. There is a miniscule delay after the final EX Hadoken in that sequence, creating the illusion of opportunity, at which point Ryu shuts it down with another EX Hadoken. By keeping the opponent locked down in block stun, Ryu is able to control the match by opening pockets where he deems fit.

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A lot of beginners like to fancy themselves as rushdown players. It's flashy and impressive, no doubt, but control is the key between a true rushdown player and a player who's just mashing buttons.

Turtle

Contrary to popular belief, Turtle style is not the opposite of Rushdown style. If you think about it, this makes sense. Why would you actively put yourself in a corner and only attack opponents who came near you? It's reactionary and, in principle, that's just silly. The true aim of turtle style is to control as much of the playfield in front of you for as long as you can before your opponent reaches you. When (s)he does reach you, you can either change styles or run away and continue.

Example # 1


Some characters are better equipped to play Turtle style than others. Akuma is the ultimate turtle character in Street Fighter IV (although Sagat certainly gives him a run for his money). His air Hadoken covers a huge diagonal portion of the screen, his horizontal Hadoken covers the entire horizontal field (not to mention his Red Hadoken eats other normal fireballs), and his Shoryuken covers a vertical right in front of him. Add to this a teleport (for quickly getting back to turtle distance) and you have a character built for controlling a huge amount of the playfield without putting himself in almost any risk.

Turtle style is about making as much work as possible for your opponent. You want to test his/her dexterity and execution. The very best turtle players hover just inside their maximum range of attack, while keeping their opponent just outside theirs (also known as zoning). Even in a mirror match this is possible by walking/dashing in and out of optimal range (which is a phenomenon many players call "dancing on the sweet spot). From here you can poke at your opponent's defenses, searching for weakness.

Poking/Zoning

You should always be looking for your opponent's weaknesses and actively testing his/her defenses. One way to do this is by poking at them with safe attacks. There isn't much else to say about this really, save for one. Make sure when you poke your opponent at the maximum possible range of your poking move. Naturally this requires a certain comfort with your character's move set. Returning to the above video, notice that Akuma often keeps Ryu at midrange rather than across the screen. Why? Because this is the maximum range of his air Hadoken and his c. MK, his two most effective pokes. Notice with his c. MK especially that Akuma almost always connects it so that only the very tip of his foot hits the enemy. This way, even if it is blocked, your opponent almost has no option quick enough to retaliate.

Example # 1

Consider Guile, who's basic gameplay is arguably designed around a zone. Guile has the unique ability to follow his projectiles instantly (other fireball wielding characters have recovery). He also has a good long range poke in the form of his c. MK, and a useful overhead that has only slightly less range. Due to his instant recovery Sonic Boom, Guile's effective range is anywhere he can follow up his Sonic Boom! His entire game is built around throwing a Sonic Boom to lock down his opponent and then following up with a standing HK (to initiate a hit or block string), c. MK (to hit low) or walk forward and do a forward + MP overhead (to hit high). If the opponent tries to counter, (s)he'll be hit by the Sonic Boom. If (s)he blocks, Guile scores a free block or hit depending on how they block, which gives him time to charge another Sonic Boom. If the opponent jumps, Guile can use MK at range or c. HP up close. If they block the entire sequence and wait to counterattack, Guile can retreat with his b + MK command move and start the sequence with a Sonic Boom again. Thus, Guile has locked his opponent into a zone far outside his opponent's effective range and can control the match from this position. Like the rushdown offense, he can leave a purposeful space anywhere in this sequence, and then counter with a high priority Flash Kick, or he can break the sequence and go for a throw.

Check out this video of Dagger_G playing and see if you can pick out the different instances he zones his opponent.



Even when playing Turtle style, you are still forcing your opponent to make quick decisions about situations that you actually control.

Zoning on wakeup

Being knocked down is a very disadvantaged situation for the downed player, yet too many offensive players allow this opportunity to pass them by. There are many ways to put pressure on a downed opponent, but here we will only focus on one. Meaty pokes.

Meaty Pokes

Meaties refers to a general situation when a player throws out an early attack on a downed opponent so that only the tail end of the active frames intersect the opponent as they rise up. Meaties enable you to "stuff" your opponent's counterattacks, because you will be hitting them with your active frames while they are in their startup frames. There are only two ways to defend against a meaty attack. One is to block, but this puts you at further risk as your opponent is sure to go into a block string. The other is to perform a reversal move with invincible startup (such as a Shoryuken).

As the name suggests, a meaty poke is when you poke an opponent as they wakeup from a knockdown. You still want to be very cautious about your range, but when done correctly, meaty pokes can score you free damage on opponents who think they can counterattack you. Even if they don't go for a counter move, a meaty poke leaves you relatively safe and, once again, puts them into block stun.

However, a meaty poke can be defeated with a high-priority wakeup move (such as a Shoryuken). As such, you don't want to be throwing them out too predictably. However, you CAN use meaty pokes to bait an opponent. At high level play, simply standing over their body will no longer be enough to bait a Shoryuken (as we did in Volume 3). Instead, you'll need to give them something to bite on. An extremely early attack on a waking opponent, one that looks like it will be a meaty, is the perfect way to get them to commit. Mix up real meaties with bait meaties and soon your opponents won't know what to do.

As an extension to this, one of the absolute safest ways to put pressure on a downed opponent is with a meaty fireball. This is a basic, barebones tactic that seems obvious, yet goes unused by many players. As an opponent rises from a fall, throw a fireball (preferably a slow one) so that they stand up into it. More often than not, you can follow up with a second fireball (a fast one) that is all but guaranteed to hit (or at least be blocked). This is a simple sequence that keeps opponents locked in block stun (or at the very worst, performing a Focus Attack), giving you the initiative.

Again, this is all about forcing your opponent to make split second decisions about situations you have control over.

Conclusion

An important takeaway from this article is that styles are not mutually exclusive. The great Fei Lo...er, I mean Bruce Lee, once said that the greatest form is to be formless. Even the most offensive rushdown players zone and poke, and even the most defensive players need to initiate some kind of offense (otherwise how would they win?). To play a complete game you should understand the situations when you need to use both these forms.

More importantly than that though, remember that your style/form is not an indication of the speed that you play or the rate at which you attack, those aren't important. Whether it takes you 100 Sonic Booms or 2 Ultra combos, the only thing that matters is that you walk away with a win. The important thing is to remember that these styles are a generalization about how you control a match's two most important resources. Space and time. You want to command as much of the play space as you can, while forcing the opponent into options that you've carefully laid out for them. It's like cornering a hog. You surround him and leave him with only one avenue of escape, right into a waiting net.

Then you have bacon.

Next time: An execution extravaganza!


3 comments:

cobbles said...

Thanks for these, they give a lot of insight to noobs like me :)

南塔斯 said...

These information is so valuable. It's definitely helping me get on track. Looking forward to new episodes!

Jason said...

These posts are amazing. Thank you for putting all of this work in to help out new people to the series or as in my case, those returning after many years. What a fantastic resource!